You know that gut feeling? It knows what’s best for body and mind so listen up! Upskill in the kitchen with fermenting to bring a high vibe to your food and add a probiotic twist to favourite dishes.
Do you recall when fermented food turned fashionable and wasn’t something at which you’d turn up your nose, moaning, ‘oooh, it’s gone off’? London opened its first café to pioneer fermented foods, High Mood Food, 2018 and now founder Ursel Barnes is bringing its recipes to our kitchens. The Chelsea and Mayfair outposts, whose visitors included nutritionists, athletes and Londoners Liz Earle and Meg Mathews, are now closed, so it’s prime time to become a DIY clever guts.
This new cookbook High Mood Food shows how. Swot up on science stats within for the health benefits and get into the swing of fermenting. This preservation method lets naturally occurring microbes loose on food and the right microbes are good news for our gut. It also gives that tangy taste (no, it’s not off!). Here, Ursel shares why gut-healthy cooking is worth a try.
What’s the vibe with High Mood Food?
A healthy spirit thrives in a healthy body. I have practiced Qi Gong since my early 20s, and am inspired by my grandmaster’s advice: ‘Food is the best medicine, you are your own best doctor and time is the best treatment.’
I feel passionate about health. There are obviously diseases that are genetic or an unfortunate strike of ill fate but there are many more ailments that we can prevent or mitigate with our lifestyle and eating habits. I get quite despondent when I see a ‘shopping’ attitude to health; that widespread belief that we can get away with a serious lack of maintenance and get the doctor to ‘fix’ us. Guess what: we can’t buy a new body like a new car and if we don’t want to spend decades getting old in pain and discomfort, we better start having a proactive love for ourselves early on.
Why should we go with our gut?
For centuries people have eaten plants, herbs and berries for optimal nutrition and used their healing properties to treat diseases. We are part of nature but seem to have lost our way when the food processing industry created highly addictive and nutritionally void food. Allergies and mental health issues have increased sharply.
We know that gut and brain work together. A calm attitude and having physical energy and resilience are the result of their joint effort to keep the body well balanced. Science is now able to prove what common wisdom has known all along: Food can be considered medicine. So we need to be more aware of how we feel after we eat. Do we hit energy lows after certain meals? Do we get bloated or suffer cravings? Those feelings are often directly linked to what we have eaten a couple of hours before.
How does this food elevate mood?
Eating, nutrition and mood go hand in hand. Our brain and gut are closely connected: They actually develop from the same cluster of embryonic tissue and stay closely connected.
The neurotransmitter serotonin might be produced in the brain but it is mostly stored in the gastro-intestinal tract. This naturally implies that taking care of our gut will influence our mood, how we feel and probably even our outlook on life! ‘I have a gut feeling’ or ‘I have butterflies in my tummy’ are expressions that show how the brain-gut connection has been viscerally experienced for many centuries.
Is this about fighting fat too?
High Mood Food is not part of a weight-loss movement. Some people are luckier with their gut bacteria and will be able to metabolise calories more quickly. If you want to lose a few pounds, introduce some new habits. Eat your carbs earlier in the day and give your digestion a rest in the evenings and overnight. Try one or two spoonfuls of psyllium husk, which is a great prebiotic to fill you up and help to make your bowel movement regular. Go with your gut. Try new ingredients and aim to have as many different plants as possible every week.
It's fun to have different cultures bubbling away in your kitchen
What’s so fab about fermentation?
It’s an ancient technique: Archaeological findings suggest that intentional fermentation has been a common practice for close to 10,000 years. At High Mood Food we ferment, soak, activate and sprout to offer the best nutrients in their most absorbable form presented in delicious dishes.
In these new times living with the coronavirus, we are spending more time at home and I would like to encourage you to make your own ferments. It’s fun to have different cultures bubbling away in your kitchen and getting to know their ‘personalities’.
Build up your gut-brain power
The human brain is nearly 60 per cent fat so we can provide the body with the best building blocks by eating healthy fats such as cold pressed oils and omega 3 fats contained in nuts and seeds or wild salmon and other fatty fish.
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is the biggest organ in the human body and it has its own enteric nervous system (ENS) - two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining the GI tract. They are in constant communication with the brain. [They don’t call the gut ‘the second brain’ for nothing.]
Emerging research shows that digestive-system activity may affect cognitive skills. The internal ecosystem is the microbiome, and we support this by eating pre- and probiotics, which indirectly supports brain function. Research indicates that traditional dietary practices and positive mental health may be linked too.
With first-time fermenters, you might need a few helpings to get used to the tangy and sour flavours. The tastes can be acquired! Start slowly with small portions. Once your gut bacteria meet their pre- and probiotic friends, they will most likely signal your brain that you want more, and put you in high spirits!
Why should first-time fermenters do a 5K?
If you’re new to this, try to make any of the 5K: Kombucha, kefir, kraut, kimchi or a kamut (ancient grain) sourdough. It is really easy, just give it a go. Don’t be put off by the initial tangy taste - you might think it tastes a little bit ‘off’. Start with small portions and trust that your gut bacteria will feed on the live bacteria and multiply.
Once these helpful bacteria increase, they will feed back to the brain that they actually quite like this food and will send signals to the taste buds that make you change your attitude. It becomes an acquired taste and research shows the welcome side effects are increased in mood levels, cognitive clarity and resilience.
Kick-off with kefir
I think kefir (a yoghurt-like fermented drink) is probably the easiest of the 5K. Just get some grains, pour some fresh full-cream milk over them, stir once or twice, and leave for 24 hours. Then take out the grains and keep the kefir in the fridge. My family loves kefir with some activated granola and cracked chia and flaxseed.
High Mood Food has over 100 seasonal recipes, including party food and brownie treats. Fermenting has a few dos and don’ts so look into its essentials, including storage and equipment. A scrubbed kitchen and hands are a must so that food doesn’t just go ‘off’ instead of ferment. Then bubble away!
High Mood Food Recipes
Devilled eggs are a favourite for my whole family. We are lucky and use the ‘happy’ eggs of the chickens that my youngest son has incubated, raised and that roam in our garden. Eggs are superfoods and a source of inexpensive, high-quality protein. Also, they’re rich sources of selenium, vitamin D, B6, B12 and minerals such as zinc, iron and copper. This recipe has a probiotic twist which adds a delicate flavour and turns the egg into a wholesome snack or meal with a side salad.
6 free-range eggs at room temperature (quail eggs could be used instead)
3 tbsp Biotic Mayo
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp sea salt flakes
¼ tsp smoked paprika, plus extra for decorating
A few drops of hot sauce (optional)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2-3 tbsp filtered water
1 tsp activated dukkah
2 tsp fresh chives, finely chopped
Bring some water to the boil in a large saucepan. Once boiling, add the eggs one by one to the pan and bring back to the boil. Boil for 1 minute, then turn the heat off and leave the eggs to stand in the pan for 12 minutes. While you’re waiting for the eggs to cook, fill a large bowl with very cold water, and throw in a handful of ice cubes if you have them.
As soon as the eggs have had their 12 minutes, transfer them into the cold water and leave for 15 minutes – no longer – before peeling patiently and carefully. Halve the eggs lengthways, then gently prise the yolk out of each half and pop them into a mixing bowl. Place the halved whites on a plate.
Add the mayo, Dijon mustard, salt and paprika to the egg yolks, then shake a few drops of hot sauce on top if you like. Stir and mash everything together with a fork, then blend with a stick blender or in a food processor. Add the oil and blend again until smooth. The mixture will be very thick. Taste to check the seasoning and see whether you want this any hotter. By hand, stir in as much of the filtered water as you need to get a piping consistency.
Spoon the golden mixture into a piping bag with a star-shaped nozzle, making sure it is densely packed at the bottom of the bag. Then pipe away, filling the hollowed-out whites with golden rosettes. You can fill the whites using a pair of teaspoons instead. Sprinkle with the extra paprika, dukkah and chopped chives to serve.
This is a classic comfort food - who doesn’t like grilled cheese? We change the bread to sourdough and add some kraut or kimchi with cultured butter for a healthy twist. We love adjusting good old favourites to be gut healthy. The intention is to add live bacteria to any dish you fancy and trust that they will help you to digest better. Eventually you will most probably want to eat more of the good stuff and less of the harmful.
(Makes one toastie)
2 slices of sourdough
25g butter or cultured butter (recipe in book)
1 tbsp miso paste
2 tsp Dijon mustard
50g unpasteurised cheddar, grated
25g sauerkraut (recipe in book)
Place a heavy-based pan on a low heat. Butter the sourdough slices on both sides, and in addition to the butter, spread one side of one slice with the miso paste, and one side of the other slice with Dijon mustard.
Lay one slice in your pan, butter-only-side down, then top with the grated cheese and kraut.
Place the remaining slice on top, butter-only-side up, to create a sandwich, and then flip the whole toastie to brown the other side. Cook low and slow to create a perfectly melted interior and golden crunchy exterior.
Mackerel is super healthy: It has high levels of essential fatty acids, which improve endurance and aid recovery after exercise, while helping to maintain beautiful skin. Our recipe is simple but the freshness of the apple, combined with the earthiness of the dill, makes a lovely flavour combination.
Stuffed mackerel with apple and dill
2 whole mackerel
1 tsp salt
1 bunch of dill
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 Granny Smith apples
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Season the flesh of the mackerel with the salt and stuff with the dill. Use butchers’ twine to secure the fish. Oil the outside of the fish and wrap in greaseproof paper. Place in the preheated oven to cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Cut the apples into matchsticks. Serve the mackerel topped with apple, drizzled with a generous amount of extra-virgin olive oil and seasoned with black pepper.
High Mood Food (Meze Publishing) by Ursel Barnes is out now via the link below.
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